1 Any discussion consists of many different contributions. These contributions often include many different points. The path a discussion takes will depend upon the points that gain most attention from Conference Members. Conference Leaders can influence the path selected by:
(a) Whether they contribute
(b) How they contribute.
2 If Conference Leaders do not contribute they allow other Conference Members to decide what they will select as important from the contributions of others and/or whether they will try to answer any questions put forward
3 Leaders who contribute can play a major role in directing the Conference by directing the flow of traffic e.g. which contributions will they emphasise; which questions will they encourage the Group to answer.
Contributions from Conference Participants
4 Conference Participants often ask questions of a Leader. Leaders have various approaches to dealing with questions. They can combine these approaches in different ways to give an even larger number of possible approaches.
5 A Leader can use any of the following four broad approaches –
(a) Ignore the Question and make no further comment
(b) Ignore the Question and contribute on a different point
(c) Defer the Question
(d) Deal with it.
6 However Participants will sometimes not allow Leaders to use the method they desire. They will: (a) deal with the question instead of ignoring it, (b) refuse to defer it by making further contributions, or (c) try to vary the way the Leader wishes to deal with a particular question.
7 Leaders who wish to deal with a question can –
(a) leave the question as stated
(b) alter it in some way; e.g. rephrase it, emphasise one or more parts, exclude a part, add something.
8 In dealing with a question (altered or not) they can –
(a) give an answer
(b) call for answers from –
(i) one or more specific individuals
(ii) all Participants without identifying anyone in particular.
9 They can also vary the sequence of whichever approaches they use. They can defer their answer until they have heard ideas from one or more Participants or they feel all Participants have contributed who want to contribute.
10 The flow diagram on the next page shows the various approaches and their combinations.
11 As with most techniques in Conference Leading, none rate as necessarily good or bad. The technique which will help most will depend on such factors as – (a) the stage a discussion has reached, (b) the speed with which the Leader wishes to move ahead and (c) the type of conference conducted. Above all it should depend on which approach the Leader believes will contribute most to achieving particular Conference Objectives.*
12 Statements, including ideas and suggestions from the Group, rate as similar to questions. Leaders can deal with a comment in similar ways to those listed above for dealing with questions. However, instead of answering a question, they can comment on a statement.
The Subject Matter of Questions and Statements
13 Leaders should classify the questions and statements in a discussion according to the closeness of the subject matter to the official topic. The relationship will rate as:
14 A consideration of contributions (including questions) in this light will assist Leaders to guide the discussion by selecting and emphasising those contributions which will contribute most to the conference objective. *
* In practice, Conference Leaders will select and rephase those approaches which will most contribute to achieving the sub-objective they have for the conference at that time. Sometimes they make mistakes: the approach selected does not contribute to the discussion (sub) objective and/or the discussion (sub) objective will not contribute to achieving the overall conference objectives.
15 Examples. A conference had only a short time until it reaches a planned finishing time. Thus the Leader ignored a question which had only slight relevance to the topic. In a different conference, the Leader also added the comment that the question rated as off-the-subject. In a development conference a slightly off—the-topic contribution brought no action by the Leader
16 This classification of contributions applies to both contributions by the Conferees and by a Leader. Hopefully a Leader’s contributions will usually rate as relevant. However when Leaders realise they have become involved in an argument, they should consider their position. They should evaluate their own comments in the light of the conference objective.
Statements by the Leader
17 Statements by a Leader will prove useful in the opening of a conference and as a summary at the end of a major section of the conference and/or the conference as a whole. During discussions, Leaders should usually avoid making statements. However where Leaders believe the Group should hear certain ideas and they believe they cannotdraw them out of the Group, they should make appropriate statements.
Should a Leader use Questions or Statements?
18 Leaders should prefer questions to statements because questions encourage Conferees to think for themselves. Statements from Leaders often encourage a non-thinking attitude. However statements will prove useful to rule out irrelevant contributions (e.g. “I believe your comment lies outside the topic of our current discussion”).
19 Sometimes statements by Leaders will prove dangerous. Sometimes a Leader expresses a personal opinion and becomes involved in an argument with the Group or part of the Group. Leaders risk losing control of the Group when this situation occurs
20 In training conferences, Leaders will more often make statements because they want Trainees to consider certain ideas.
21 Where Leaders do not make statements in the form of summaries some Groups will feel that they have discussed a subject but determined nothing concrete.